AUUUUGH: Social Media For Crisis Communications

Ian Lurie

I had a hard, hard lesson in crisis communications last week. Thursday evening our data center at Fisher Plaza went ‘kerploop’. That’s the short hand for “a perfect storm of stupid design, a fire and really bad luck took out all power to one of Seattle’s primary data centers, shutting down two TV stations, a few radio stations, and several hundred other sites”.
You can read my timeline here, or read the media’s take on the whole mess here.

The crisis

Among those several hundred sites were 20-30 of our clients. Suddenly, we had no ‘state of the art’ data center, they had no web sites, we had no fast way to get in touch with them, and we had no idea when they’d be back. The world (my world, at least) was suddenly a very uncertain place.
So, we had a few choices: We could run in circles, screaming incoherently; we could hold our breaths; or we could help our clients get the word out.
I tried option 1 and 2 first, but after the first 2 hours, I was exhausted and oxygen-deprived, so I moved on to 3.

Social media to the rescue

Any client who had a presence on Facebook, Twitter or another social media portal could immediately let folks know:
And, the moment the site was back (26 excruciating hours later), they could again send an update:
Other clients were able to use Twitter and LinkedIn to the same effect.

The lesson: Build your social media profile!

Yes, I hate the phrase ‘social media’. But you need the medium. Even if you can’t think of a single way to generate an ROI; can’t understand what the fuss is about; think all social media users are teenagers, you must build your presence.

  • Put a link to your company’s Facebook fan page on every page of your web site. If you don’t have a fan page, create one. It takes about, oh, 3 minutes.
  • Put a link to your company’s Twitter account on your site, too.
  • If there’s a unique online community for your industry, create a presence there and link to that, too.
  • In order confirmation e-mails, include those links.
  • In presentations, include ’em, too.

Never mind the marketing potential. That one time you absolutely need a way to reach your audience, but can’t do it via your web site, your pre-made social media audience will be there, waiting for news.
That makes social media an ideal crisis communications tool.

I should also point out that the news media had no clue what was going on for the first 4-5 hours of the crisis. We finally figured out the problem by piecing together Twitter posts from other folks.


Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (that's more than 25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team, training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. I also think that speed is the key to social media understanding. One tweet can be enough to launch a huge gossip and generate negative buzz on the Net, don’t you think!? And at the day of today; what happens online, happens on real life. If you’d like to discuss this topic more I invite you read my article “Social Media in Crisis Management: The sharp click”. Hope you like it. Thanks!

  2. Case in point:
    I work at a University and a transformer fire in the city knocked out power along with our servers for a few hours…
    The websites were all offline, so I used my blackberry to log onto our department’s Twitter account and tweeted the situation. It got retweeted by some other local twits, thus proving it as a useful means of getting the word out.
    T’was also a good test for us to monitor local conversations about the problem so we could get the latest info from a number of sources and potentially control the conversation if need be (ie. straighten out any inaccurate gossip).
    Tools used for that were:
    – for monitoring relevant keywords being tweeted in ‘real time’,
    – to look at some of the local tweets in general (ie. related conversations that didn’t feature the KWs we popped into tweettabs).
    Definitely works and we’re expanding on how we can stay engaged in online conversations during similar events.

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